The Congress, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), and the People’s Republican Party (PRP) will hold their first joint rally at Nanded in Maharashtra’s Marathwada on 20 February, just two days after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Shiv Sena agreed to contest elections together.
Nanded is one of the only two constituencies in Maharashtra that elected a Congress candidate in 2014. It is the hometown of state Congress president and former chief minister Ashok Chavan, who represents the constituency in Parliament.
Chavan, NCP president Sharad Pawar, and All India Congress Committee general secretary and Maharashtra in-charge Mallikarjun Kharge, and a host of Congress and NCP leaders will address the rally.
This will be followed by a similar joint rally at Parali in Marathwada on 23 February. The two rallies are expected to set the tone for a meeting that Congress president Rahul Gandhi is expected to address at Dhule in north Maharashtra on 1 March.
So far, the Congress and NCP have managed to sign up only the PRP in their emerging coalition to challenge the National Democratic Alliance. The PRP, led by former Maharashtra legislative council member and Dalit leader Jogendra Kawade, is a marginal player in some pockets of Vidarbha.
More influential smaller parties such as Dalit leader Prakash Ambedkar’s Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh, the Bahujan Samaj Party, and the Samajwadi Party are not part of the coalition.
Ambedkar has tied up with Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), which has presence in parts of Marathwada, including Aurangabad, though Congress and NCP state leaders are still in talks with Ambedkar. Chavan has expressed willingness to accommodate Ambedkar’s party, but has refused to have any truck with the AIMIM.
Similarly, the NCP suggestion to bring Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) on board to add a section of Marathi votes to the coalition’s kitty has been rejected by the Congress, on the ground that the MNS style of functioning did not sit well with the Congress ideology. The failure to rope in other smaller parties has also delayed the announcement of seat-sharing between the Congress and the NCP, as the two parties will have to set aside some seats for others in the coalition.
On Tuesday, the Congress and the NCP reacted sharply to the formal announcement of the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance in Mumbai. Chavan said this was an alliance between “Rafael chor and lachar Shiv Sena", quoting from the Shiv Sena mouthpiece Saamna’s article published just a few days ago.
Congress leader Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil went on to allege that the BJP had coerced the Shiv Sena into joining the alliance by threatening an enforcement directorate probe into “irregularities" committed by Shiv Sena leaders.
However, a senior NCP leader, who requested anonymity, admitted that the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance would be a “formidable challenge" despite the “climate of distrust" between the saffron allies. “The challenge before the BJP-Shiv Sena is how to ensure a transfer of votes in constituencies where sharp divisions may have emerged among their cadres and supporters in the last five years. Yet, the essential character of a typical BJP-Shiv Sena voter remains the same and he is unlikely to be affected by the public posturing by the BJP or Shiv Sena leaders. Also, since they are in power, BJP and Shiv Sena have had more resources and patronage at their disposal to share with the cadres in last five years and that makes a lot of difference," said the NCP leader.